The British and Irish Lions first began touring in 1888 where 10,000 spectators watched the first clash in Otago. Fast forward 132 years and the next tour is due to take place this summer. It’s a hot topic in world rugby currently but, what if there was potential to form a women’s British and Irish Lions team to tour to New Zealand?
Granted, not all nations are as fortunate as the Red Roses who were handed 28 professional contracts in 2019. But, the game is reaching new heights, and women’s rugby is due the opportunity. Could that include representing the traditional composite team from the home unions?
A British and Irish Lions women’s team is probably a long way off from happening because in reality many of the players who play 15s are not professional. They have another job alongside meaning they cannot be in two places at once. This is one of the reasons the Women’s Six Nations has been postponed. Players can’t be placed into a support bubble and be tested on a regular basis due to the Coronavirus. However, the more fans that come and watch women play, will allow the game to expand its viewing audience when safe to do so.
Could a Women’s British and Irish Lions team draw big audiences?
This will only be more likely to happen though if more of the games can be accessed on terrestrial TV. In 2020, the women played France in the Autumn series. It was televised on BBC2 and it attracted a TV audience of 1.91m combined over the two weekends.
Furthermore, the Olympics and Rugby World Cup take place this year which has got to attract more of a viewing. It would also be great to see more female pundits commentate on the women’s game. This would allow more exposure to the players that play for the other Lions nations; not just England, as many are fine athletes. Having them combine forces, the possibilities are endless.
Below are three influential females within the rugby world, who are all in favour of wanting a women’s British and Irish Lions team:
Stella Mills who plays for Poole RFC believes there is potential to create a British and Irish Lions women’s team. Stella is Captain of her rugby club and thinks:
“Ultimately, any competition that gives female athletes the opportunity to perform at the highest level, will increase participation at grassroots level. Saying that it’s important that the correct procedures are followed. Also, that the same opportunities offered to male counterparts, are afforded to the females performing at the same level.
“There is certainly an appetite for this to happen. It presents an opportunity for the sport to grow. Although, sporting bodies need to assess the realistic viability of this before agreeing to do it. A great coach I know always said to me: “Get the basics nailed and you’re onto a winner”. The same principle applies here. It is about getting the competitions we already have at the elite level nailed first.”
Now the women’s Six Nations has been postponed creates a huge opportunity for the competition to have its own air time with exclusive sponsorship opportunities. Just imagine to potential.
However, in the light of day, Mills says the issue of contracts and pay is still something which is not fully established in this competition. “Focus should be put on these areas to ensure females at the elite level are supported throughout their career and have access to the resources which will allow this. The women’s sport is growing at an exponential rate, but it still has a long way to go.”
Jessica Hayden is a Freelance Journalist who has recently become a women’s columnist for Rugby Pass. She’s also had her work published in newspapers; such as The Guardian and the Sunday Times. She believes that it’s a long way off but would love to see it happen:
“Everything is possible. The women’s Barbarians side was a testament to that but more investment is needed – to cover both 15s and 7s. Maybe if they toured in countries with good support for women’s rugby like NZ, Canada, USA, Hong Kong, France, etc, it could be a good advert for the women’s game. But, while only England is fully professional, it would be a very England-centric side and a lot to ask of the players who also have full-time jobs”
Finally, Zainab Alema, winner of the Sunday Times Grassroots Sportswoman of the Year 2020 and founder of rugby charity Studs In The Mud is also in agreement. Zainab was recognized in the awards for encouraging black and Muslim women and girls to play rugby.
Zainab has had an inspirational impact on female players across the UK as well as in Ghana and Morocco. Her passion for playing has seen ‘Studs In The Mud’ providing equipment and funding to allow women to play where rugby is not freely on offer. She continues to use her social media presence as a platform for encouraging more women to join the game.
“I think it’d be a great idea to have a Lions women’s team. The women’s game is growing at a good rate but investment is vital. We’re also facing gender bias, #enough and #icare are examples but there is some way to go. I for one am proud of the way the women’s rugby community comes together. It takes a stand for what they believe in and what is rightly due to us…respect.”
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